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  • Writer's pictureTanja van Hummel

Eurovision Song Contest for PhD Students

Finalist Effy Ntemou speaks about the 3 Minutes Thesis Finals

Effy Ntemou during the 3MT rehearsal, made by Cisca Wijmenga and Elmer Sterken

Effy Ntemou, PhD student in Neurolinguistics, won the second place in the finals of the 3 Minutes Thesis, which took place in Padua, Italy, last weekend. Her road to these finals started months ago, when her supervisors told her she did not present her research in plain words to them and should improve this skill. She took this literally and signed up for the 3 Minutes Thesis Competition. The first round in Groningen was organized by MindMint and Effy became the winner. After she won the Dutch national round as well, she traveled together with the University of Groningen delegation to the Coimbra Conference in Padua. This conference is a meeting of long-established and multidisciplinary universities in Europe and the 3 Minutes Thesis Final was the highlight of this conference. The day after, Effy shares her excitement over the 3 Minutes Thesis Competition, which feels like the Eurovision Song Contest, with MindMint and highly recommends to all other PhD students taking part in the next 3 Minutes Thesis Competition.

The days before

“The 3 Minutes Thesis is like the Eurovision Song Contest. From all over Europe delegations gathered in Padua and we had rehearsals the day before the finals. In the days before I was able to keep my nerves under control, but all hell broke loose during the final rehearsal. Like during the Eurovision Song Contest, everyone was there: the moderator, the crew, everyone. I was rehearsing and suddenly, out of nothing, my nerves skyrocketed, and I got blank.

Blank. I lost my pitch, a pitch that I had repeated over and over again. Under the shower, while doing the dishes, during breaks. I knew it by heart. And now: blank. As a neuroscientist I would put myself in the MRI scan: what happened? I panicked. What if this happens tomorrow?

I texted my supervisor and his reaction calmed me down. He texted: “No matter what, even if you get blank, for us you are always the best”. With ‘us’ he meant the whole lab. This was so sweet. I gained back my confidence. I got the feeling “I can do this. I got this”.”

The finals

Effy Ntemou, photo made by Cisca Wijmenga and Elmer Sterken

“Everyone was excited and looking forward to the finals. The conference was about money, collaborations, strategies; the finals were really the highlight for everyone. This vibration made me even more excited and gave me the feeling of the finals as being a show.

It really was a show. It differs largely from just a conference presentation. I got presented as a representative of the University of Groningen and the rector of our university was sitting in the audience. I really felt “I do not want to do bad in front of the rector”. But how you present is sort of a show also. I was judged on being theatrical, energetic, and my ability to awake the audience’s curiosity.

My final moment was there. I was the second speaker, came on stage and went ahead. Everything went well and I did not forget my words! You can watch it via this link.

The results

“There was a voting break after we, the three finalists, presented. People from different universities came to me, wishing me luck saying, “it is really between you and the first person who presented”. It is bittersweet that I came second, but nevertheless I gained so much from this Eurovision Contest for PhD students. The Georg August Universität in Göttingen, Germany, for example, invited all the three finalists to conduct a science communication workshop in Göttingen.

Due to the 3 Minutes Thesis, I am also more aware of the impact my research has on society. It was an honor to promote my research field to a broader public and it helped me to broaden my own perspective on what I am doing as well. As a PhD student you can get lost in your own little world. A PhD can be lonely: it is your thesis, and you have to manage it. The 3 Minutes Thesis is a very good antidote against this. I got to know so many people who all are interested in what I am doing. This pumped up my motivation.

But my biggest takeaway is that I now know how to put myself in the audience's position and to look at my texts and presentations from a meta perspective. If my audience contains a researcher in economics, what matters to him? This was what went wrong when I had to explain my research in plain words to my supervisors. So, these insights will definitely help me to write papers and grant applications that are interesting for the general public.”

You can do it

“I would definitely recommend everyone to take part in the 3 Minutes Thesis. It is such a good exercise to condense three years or more of your thesis in just three minutes. It forces you to go back to the fundamentals of your PhD so your grandma can understand what you are doing. It is a wonderful way to discover how your project can contribute to our society. You will meet so many people. It is so much fun. It is like the Eurovision Song Contest, but now for PhD students.”


Tanja van Hummel is PhD-student at the Faculty of Theology and Religious Studies. She researches the sacred dimensions of climate change-induced conflicts among Indigenous peoples in Kenya. She is also the chief editor of MindMint.


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